The knock on my door came quite unexpectedly.  I wasn’t counting on any visitors, so I turned my music down and headed for the door.  A gentleman was standing outside, and he absolutely needed my help—if I would only buy a couple magazines to send to orphans, he could go on a trip to the Caribbean, and yours truly could be right by his side.

In theory, charity is a wonderful thing.  It involves doing good things for people who need them.  But much like many things in this great country, charity sometimes blurs the lines between doing good and turning a profit.  And when someone comes to your door to sell you magazines for orphans so they can go to the Caribbean, it probably raises a few questions.  Namely, is this even charitable?  Now, if your brain works like mine, then one question only raises more, and before you know it, you’re neck deep in charity research.  And that research can be disappointing.

Charity is defined as “the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.”  This definition is, in theory, a wonderful one.  It becomes slightly less wonderful in practice, where questions regarding the allocation of the aforementioned money are so often raised and so infrequently answered.

Some charities claim to do massive amounts of good, but it’s good that can’t be seen.  One problem with “ranking” your favorite charity is that it’s often hard to gauge how much its members actually do.  Fortunately, all charities have to file a 501-C, the “C,” standing for charity.  The 501-C is a tax form that reflects donations, overhead, and many other important aspects of maintaining a business that’s supposed to be doing good for others.

It would be hugely disappointing to be under the impression that you were making some positive impact, only to learn that 50 cents on the dollar of your entire donation went to paying an executive or making sure corporate headquarters could have that huge Christmas party.  Some charities spend less than 1 percent of their earnings on direct cash aid.

Fortunately for you and I, there are ways to avoid making unwise charitable donations.  Websites such as GiveWell, CharityWatch, and even the Better Business Bureau maintain resources focused on helping the average good Samaritan make wise charitable donations.  These donations stand to do real good, but only if they are going to the cause they are claiming to help!

For some people, charity is just as much about self as it is about others.  It exists as a way to make people feel good about what they’re doing.  There’s no doubt that an attempt to help someone else is intrinsically positive, but perhaps when seeking fulfillment, involvement with more localized causes would be wise—not only because it gives back to those most immediate in your community, but because the effects are often far more visible.  I would way rather head down to the Fayetteville Animal Shelter and walk some puppies for a few hours than buy a magazine from the scary man outside my door so that he can go to the Caribbean.  Make no mistake here, my venerable readers—I am not coming down on charitable donations. I am simply making the point that these donations may not always do what it you hope they are doing.  If you’re going to make a donation, inform yourself first.  And always consider an alternative method.  There’s always good to be done––sometimes you just have to go looking for it.

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